Why haven't I seen any "What Would John Lennon Do?" stuff? He used to be a de facto appropriation path for retooling a cultural marketing campaign, right behind Calvin and Che Guevara. Plus, he has reached a degree of sainthood that I "imagine" many actually ask that question in times of strife, finger on chin, eyes cast on the heavens. Personally, I follow Jack Black's lead of asking "What Would Fugazi Do?" but I don't even think there is actually a Fugazi anymore. No wonder my moral compass wavers like it does.But I digress. Here is what he would be doing had Mark Chapman sought an autograph or a hug instead: He'd either completely retire and fade into superstar obscurity, live in a giant orb in Seattle, or keep working with like minded people, much like Neil Young did and does. He'd team up with pretty young things like Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom on a track here and there, he'd do some really embarrassing stuff with like, Phil Collins or someone, and then I'd hope he'd hunker down for an album's worth with some of his kindred spirits like Robyn Hitchcock, and maybe before he expired himself, former punk seed-sower and later piano troubadour Epic Soundtracks.
Epic Soundtracks entered the public sphere along with his brother Nikki Sudden as members of the seminal but seldom heard post-punk keystone Swell Maps. After a winning a suit pit against him by Epic Records, forcing them to rename their movie soundtracks division, he hopped around in various guises, as curious and varied as being a temporary members of both the Lemonheads and Crime and the City Solution back in the day and embarking on a solo career of sublime piano balladry, the quality of which was rarely seen outside of the aforementioned Hitchcock and Lennon. Since his death in 1997, a trickle of releases of his apparently abundant backlog have been appearing, including Everything is Temporary pieced together by his brother in the wake of his departure, and now, Good Things, the first of hopefully a long series of excursions into this sad sublime vein.
Good Things opens with "I Do Declare" - Epic recording a duet with himself on piano and guitar deep in the echoey well of darkness. "Sooner and Later" shows a glimmer of hope from his vantage point on the floor, but its on "Dedication" where you see where he's really coming from:
Do you wanna be in my song?
You're so cool, that's where you belong.
I'm tryin to finish this song
And I'm gonna dedicate it to you
and when I do, its gonna make you cry
Epic has one of the most deft pens at capturing melancholy this side of Nick Drake. He wants to make you cry, you want to cry. The deep well production of "I Gotta Be Free" underscores this mutual desire.
In all posthumous albums, I can't help but seek out signs that the author knew it was coming. While these are archive recordings, not an unfinished symphony like Elliot Smith's From a Basement on the Hill, the spectre of death hovers near to everything here, as in dirgey ballad "Roll the Stone" and the otherworldly refracted nature of "The House on The Hill." Both these songs sound as if they are being sung by a ghost, whether an actual apparition or a Prufrock, staring at the party through the window, unseen by all he desires to know and love. None, though are as heavy-lidded and laden with delicious as "Cry a Tear" where it comes across as he's singing his heart out to someone he loves as she is pulling away in a boat to the Hereafter.
Maybe I am relying too heavily on his death to take these songs in, but, like when you hear John Lennon watching the wheels spin round and round from the beyond, its unavoidable. The last two tracks, a jaunty 'You Better Run" and crackly recorded phone call as the final unlisted track close this splendid album. I'm just hoping there are more good things like this coming down the pipe.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com